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I received a PhD in Mechanical Engineering in 2013 in the USA and then had a brief stint as a "teaching assistant professor" for one year at my alma mater. I moved then to a post-doc position in Europe which was highly dissatisfying and "unsuccessful" (unsuccessful=zero publications) for a year. I returned to the USA and now I am in a non-tenure track position (teaching track as "Lecturer") in a mechanical engineering department. A non-tenure track position at my university is a two year rolling contract which may be renewed based on performance in TEACHING, service and some project management activities.

I enjoy teaching and find that my students do like me as a teacher and this is evidenced by favorable "instructor evaluations" from the students. Instructor evaluations are one of the main factors in "re-employment".

I find very often that there are burning research questions that I would like to work on but since I am on a 4-4 teaching load (4 courses/preparations per semester), I actually do not find too much time to start investing my personal time in research. My personal time goes into "mandatory service activities" (a lot of it is 'busy work') for my department. These service activities are skirted by tenure track faculty and falls squarely on the shoulders of "Lecturers" (NTT).

I would like to get into a tenure track position as that seems to be inviting. I say this because, it would seem that on average, in the USA, for mechanical engineering/applied mechanics departments, tenure track (Asst Professor) has a 2-1 or even a 1-1 teaching load. The other portion of their time is mentoring graduate students and writing grants.

The topic for my PhD was niche (hydrothermal space applications) and did not produce tomes of publications (2 Journals, 10 conference), none of them cited significantly (twice at most for journal papers).

How do I break out from my non-tenure track position and move into a tenure track position? I realize the breadth/scope of my question is perhaps too subjective so I decided to form strategies. I am wondering if people on this forum who are into hiring committees could shed more light on whether these strategies are useful or if not, provide other perspectives

Strategies:

Strategy 1:

Continue in non-tenure track for a few years. Eventually I won't be spending too much time on new course preparation and that may afford me time to spend on research. However, then I will have significant backlog of scientific work to catch up on!

Strategy 2.:

Start applying for tenure track positions fully knowing that although I do have an aptitude for the research I want to do, I am lacking in publications. I have exhausted my PhD work into two publications (such was the nature of my PhD) and there is no "new data" or "new angle on old data" that I can publish right now. In this strategy of "job applications", I will have to focus on projecting my strengths (teaching, mentoring) and extend it or relate it to future proficiency in research

Strategy 3:

Quit my job and spend time trying to do research sans a pay-check (risky?) in the hope that this would allow me time for research.

Strategy 4:

Collaborate with tenure track faculty in my current university. The trouble is ("challenge" is a better word...) striking a working relationship with someone when I know that I am exhausting over 10 hours a day (on avg.) on teaching activities with little zing left in me at the end of the day!

Strategy x.:

Anything I might be missing as a strategy. This is where perhaps I could gain from someone's experience in this forum.

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    Not strategy 3, anyway... – paul garrett Sep 12 '15 at 22:12
  • @paulgarrett So I would assume too... but then there are always those who just might have done that (or something equally outlandish). So I thought I should include any "thought" or "strategy" I can think of, however poor or great. – dearN Sep 12 '15 at 22:13
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    It is true that working any sort of substantial full-time job leaves one with little energy to undertake another essentially full-time activity after-hours. I fear no reasonable strategy can overcome this, especially when one's CV shows the arc one is on. It's hard to catch up to people who've (through luck or whatever) gotten a big head start at some point. – paul garrett Sep 13 '15 at 0:34
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    It almost never happens that someone succeeds in doing what you're hoping to do. One example where it did happen is Yitang Zhang, who essentially followed your Strategy 1. – Noah Snyder Sep 13 '15 at 1:58
  • As an updated, it is not going well! I have succeeded in teaching and establishing a small research "plan" for myself but besides that, I am getting rejected left, right and center with respect to job applications. – dearN Sep 21 '18 at 16:12
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Apply, apply, and apply. If you are willing to work in another country, then opportunities are available. Earlier today, I saw an advertisement for a research university in Chile that was looking for faculty. Also, I have seen these advertisements for Chinese, and Korean universities as well. Here, you will get teaching in, but also have great graduate students and the ability to build up a strong profile. Maybe after you get to the Associate professor level you can apply again to the USA. If you really feel like you want to stay in the US, the go on a massive application spree, and also apply to schools with MET programs. It may be difficult, but not impossible, to get a teaching-research tenure track position that you hope for. Keep in mind, many foreign countries do not give tenure.

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